Nasty nationalism

I did a quick search but failed to find where or when Gordon Brown made the remarks attributed to him by Sir Keir Starmer in his address to the faithful and the fractious at British Labour’s conference. Perhaps somebody with more time and inclination will dig it up. Not that it matter. Having repeated the words in a very public forum Starmer has taken ownership of the comment and all that it implies. Had he any self-awareness, he’d now wish he hadn’t. But if he had any self-awareness he wouldn’t be a British politician.

As very often happens – especially when words are chosen to pander to a particular prejudice – the remark says more about the person making it than it says about the intended target. The manner in which a person fallaciously regards and falsely represents a worldview that is not their own commonly provides indications of their own mindset. We can deduce much about their thinking on any issue from their ‘analysis’ of an opponent’s position. Populist hyperbole tends to be informed by prejudice rather than knowledge. The form of the rhetoric tells us much about the prejudice that shaped it.

First, let’s remind ourselves what Starmer said. Or what Starmer said Gordon Brown said. They are as one on this matter.

As Gordon Brown said recently, when a Welsh or Scottish woman gives blood, she doesn’t demand an assurance that it must not go to an English patient

The implication, of course, is that Scottish nationalism is of the ‘blood and soil’ variety. The intended inference is that the independence campaign is principally or largely concerned with ethnicity. The remark none too subtly portrays Scotland’s cause as being all about ‘racial purity’. Or ‘ethnic purity’ for those in the audience with wits enough to recognise that it’s several thousand years too late to start thinking about an unsullied pedigree. There is no Scottish race. It may be argued that there is some kind of Scottish ethnicity. But whatever this Scottish ethnicity is, it isn’t ‘pure’ in any sense. In fact, many (most?) of those who call Scotland their country take some pride in our mongrel heritage. Many (most?) of us see racial, ethnic and/or cultural mixing as a positive The last two are enriched by what they take from other cultures and ethnicities. Or what is gifted to them by those cultures and ethnicities.

There is no ethnic component to Scottish nationalism. There just isn’t. Which is not to say there are no racists and xenophobes on the extreme fringes. But that’s where they belong. If such attitudes must exist – and regrettably human nature seems to dictate that they must – then so long as they’re kept well away from the mainstream they are relatively harmless. Which suggests we should be very wary indeed of those who attempt to inject such attitudes into mainstream politics. Which is what Gordon Brown was trying to do when he first (allegedly) made the comment. And what Sir Keir Starmer was doing when he quoted the odious Mr Brown. Both were attempting to drag the ‘debate’ around the Union into the dark realm of identity politics in it’s most objectionable and dangerous form. Both should be deeply ashamed. But that would require a degree of self-awareness. The dearth of which among British politicians is something we keep coming back to.

Another thing that invariably comes up in any discussion of nationalism is British exceptionalism and the many ways in which it manifests in British politics. It is British exceptionalism combined with personal and partisan interest which is evident when Jackie Baillie accuses the SNP of wanting to “steal our voters” (my emphasis). The possessive pronoun acting as an adjective in that phrase describes Scottish voters as belonging to Baillie personally; to her party; and to the system of power, privilege and patronage which defines the British state. A system which is held to be sacrosanct by those who crave the power, lust after the privilege and hunger for the patronage. It’s ‘British is best!’ coded into the DNA. The system serves them. They serve the system. And if the system fails them it’s because they haven’t served the system well enough and so they must serve the system better. (The similarity to religion is not at all coincidental.)

Be sure that ‘sacrosanct’ is the appropriate term. It means something that must be kept safe. Something that must be defended against harm or violation or contamination. Something that must be kept pure and unsullied. Something exceptional. Hence British exceptionalism.

When Gordon Brown and Keir Starmer attempt to smear the SNP with the calumnious insinuation that Scottish nationalism is driven by notions of racial or ethnic purity what we see is leakage of their British exceptionalism. The ‘quote’ “Accuse the other side of that which you are guilty” is one of many dubiously attributed to Nazi master propagandist Joseph Goebbels. It’s not a particularly profound thing to say. It’s just something people do. They try to reapportion guilt. Even children do it. It’s instinctive. A basic urge to redress an imbalance of culpability with its implications for relative power. Being blameworthy tends to make an individual, group or organisation less powerful. Pushing some of that blameworthiness onto others is one way of evening things out. Especially useful if claims of innocence cannot be credible.

The blood donor remark makes little sense in the context of Scottish nationalism. It’s a smear because it makes no sense. But it makes perfect sense in the context of British exceptionalism – and hence British Nationalism. When Gordon Brown first made the remark and when Keir Starmer repeated it, both were speaking as British Nationalists. Both were revealing something of the nature of their own nationalism. And what an ugly thing it is!



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12 thoughts on “Nasty nationalism

  1. Spot on.

    The only nationalism on these islands is the one of the 19th century variety. The one that created the British Empire and its colonies. The one that considers its ‘country’ to be superior in all facets to other countries. The one that even today permits Orange Walks ‘celebrating’ a 17th century religion based triumphalism. The one that permitted and facilitated the ‘hostile environment’ developed and accelerated over the last 10 years. The one where Johnny Foreigner is told to f**k off back home (unless they wish to drive our lorries, pick our fruit and serve us our meals … for a wage pittance and only till Christmas at which time they can f**k off home again).

    That’s the nationalism that Starmer and his despicable cronies sign up to. This is what make them proud to be British. Or, in Brown’s case, “proud to be Scottish but …”

    Liked by 2 people

      1. No they haven’t. The terms are just being extended to include the extremely few unfortunate enough to have a different phenotype to their genotype. As to the linked article …. so what? Surely it is the rape that is the important thing? Not which gender the rapist claims to be.

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  2. Sincere congratulations on your sanity and rationality. I wish I could keep these qualities up as well as you do!

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  3. Tactically, and from a purely rational standpoint, it makes no sense for Scots to pretend that while we might ignore the realites of race and ethnicity and wish to stamp out any preferences for our own within our political franchise we assume this will happen with other cultures/ethnicities that come to live in Scotland.

    English people come to Scotland primarily for lower cost of housing, nicer scenery, quieter living conditions or just for work.

    Those from outside of these isles are mostly here for work, better conditions etc.

    On average someone who is not Scottish (or the child of an immigrant to Scotland) is living in Scotland because it suits them better than their own ‘native’ homeland in some way.

    There s nothing about this that inherently sets them to be favourable to Scottish political autonomy. In fact large constitutional change is something the majority will view less favourably for which the media and British establishment are well placed to exploit.

    Further – if there is to be racial purity for an ethnicity to be given respect as a people then this would exclude almost all other ethnicities on earth. It is in fact utterly ridiculous.

    You said – ‘There is no ethnic component to Scottish nationalism. There just isn’t. Which is not to say there are no racists and xenophobes on the extreme fringes. But that’s where they belong. If such attitudes must exist – and regrettably human nature seems to dictate that they must – then so long as they’re kept well away from the mainstream they are relatively harmless. Which suggests we should be very wary indeed of those who attempt to inject such attitudes into mainstream politics’

    But before this you said – ‘As very often happens – especially when words are chosen to pander to a particular prejudice – the remark says more about the person making it than it says about the intended target. The manner in which a person fallaciously regards and falsely represents a worldview that is not their own commonly provides indications of their own mindset.’

    Your attempt to ignore any space between a purely civic Scottish Nationalism and outright fringe racism is an excellent example.

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  4. Deleting a comment you cannot handle is an even greater sign of your own bias. Not to mention an admition of the weakness of your own position on a topic.

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  5. I would be very surprised if Gordon Brown made that exact comment. Certianly, he couldn’t have made anywhere in Public, otherwise The (Glasgow) Herald would have had it as a screaming headline, with plenty of follow up comment!
    The G Herald is particulaly fond of anything and everythng, Brown says.
    It seems to have an almost ideological love of the former Prime Mnister.
    Not so sure if the Daily Recod of “Brown Vow” infamy still shares that idolization of G. Brown, these days.
    If Brown ever said it, it must have been privately to Sir Starermer.

    Regardless Sir Starmer deliberately made a comment that was totally unacceptable, and outrageous.
    He knew fine what he was doing, and as such, the guy cannot be trusted in anythig whatsoever.
    He is as anti Scottish as Boris Johnson, and some in the pro Indpendence movement really ought to accept the fact, Labour is just as bad as the tories when it come to this country.
    In fact, Labour is far, far worse, as they pretend to be for Democracy.
    They pretend to be anti tory to Scotland, but do everything possible to keep tory rule over Scotland.
    Sir Starmer, then, by making that comment, is worse than any tory!

    Liked by 1 person

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